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August 20, 2019

EXCLUSIVE: Fugitive busted at JFK 25 years after he shot Queens hardware store owner

May 27, 2018
The New York-New Jersey regional Fugitive Task Force arrested Freddy Guera at JFK Tuesday. (DOCC)

Maybe he thought the law forgot about him.

Freddy Guerra was 18 years old when he and two friends shot a Queens hardware store owner in 1992 because they wanted an armful of spray paint cans.

Facing a stiff prison sentence, Guerra skipped bond and fled to the Dominican Republic, where he stayed for 25 years, working as a mechanic in the capital, Santo Domingo.

Then, inexplicably, about a week ago, he applied for a passport to visit family in New York, police sources said.

Instead, he ended up in a cell in Rikers Island.

NYPD detectives and U.S. Marshals met him at JFK Airport Tuesday night and placed him in cuffs.

Guerra and two other suspects stuck up Willie’s Hardware and Building Supply Store on Horace Harding Expressway by 159th St. in Kissena on Sept. 16, 1992.

The trio stole cash and about 30 or 40 spray paint cans, then shot the owner, Lieb Zaban, in the chin. Zaban, then 60, survived the shooting.

A month later, police caught up with Guerra and 14-year-old accomplice. They charged both with attempted murder.

Zaban died in 2015, at age 91.

Rabbi Gerald Sussman, 68, whose family has owned the building for generations, said his mother, Betty, ran the store a few years before Zaban bought it.

“I grew up upstairs. It was my father’s business,” said Sussman, who lives on Staten Island, where he leads Congregation Tempe Emanu-El.

His mother was robbed a few years before Zaban was shot. Police warned her, “Close up this place or you’re gonna be carried out of here,” Sussman recalled. He explained: “She was an old woman in that fairly large store, all by herself.”

Zaban bought the store a few years after that. The shooting put an end to his ambitions for the business.

“Afterwards, he kind of lost heart for the whole thing,” Sussman said. “They tied him up in the back, and they shot him. That’s what he said.”

By 1997, the store had changed hands again and become a motorsports shop. It now houses a taekwondo studio.

Zaban’s widow, Lea, who lives in Pennsylvania, refused to discuss the shooting.

When told of Guerra’s arrest, she said, “That’s good. That’s good.”

Guerra pleaded guilty to attempted murder in December 1992, and was freed on $50,000 bond. He skipped a Feb. 3, 1993, court date. Three weeks later, he was sentenced in absentia to six to 18 years in prison.

The New York-New Jersey regional Fugitive Task Force arrested him at JFK Tuesday.

Guerra now sits in Rikers Island, awaiting a June 14 court date where he’ll learn his fate.

With Edgar Sandoval, Graham Rayman

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